Books reviewed by SPR reviewers

Rosney, Mark, Bethell, Bob, Robinson, Jebby
Tom Ruffles

Mark Rosney, Rob Bethell and Jebby Robinson are collectively Para-Projects, a group active in the North-West of England. They have put together an informative and entertaining book aimed at those who have little or no experience of investigating spontaneous cases. 

The book clearly sets out guidelines for those would like to have a go, taking them through the stages of a typical project. But first they look at the investigator, listing the attributes necessary to undertake the activity in a professional manner. They consider the key characteristics to include: objectivity, not having preconceptions; problem-solving skills; calmness; patience, and a sense of humour. Above all, they stress the necessity to keep an open mind. They also include tips on safety, which can be all too easily forgotten in the excitement of following up a case.
 
There is an excellent section on kit, everything from cameras, audio recorders and torches, to EMF meters, CCTV cameras and weather stations, describing in detail different models, both digital and analogue, and giving the authors’ choices of what is adequate and what is best for a particular purpose, bearing in mind technical issues and budgetary constraints. Examples are given throughout the text of how these can be used in the context of particular types of investigation.
 
Of crucial importance is the stress on the life-cycle of a case, from initial contact to publishing a report. This is all common sense, but not necessarily something that a new group would consider carefully. A fair amount of space is devoted to interviewing skills and data gathering, with lists of questions to assist in making sure that this stage is as complete as possible. The following chapters are devoted to different types of investigation. They follow a similar format, with a quick historical overview of a topic, a consideration of different theories, and advice on how to investigate it.
 
Naturally the first and longest of these is devoted to ghosts, and after a few pages on historical aspects and a rundown of different theories, ranging through life after death, ‘stone tapes’, time anomalies and infrasound, and throwing in poltergeists to boot, they provide an overview of how to carry out an investigation. They stress the importance of background research, and suggest sources of information. For those cases where a vigil is deemed of value, they give pointers on how to do it in the most efficient manner, and describe a number of ways to utilise equipment and personnel. This material is based on practical field experience, and would be read with profit by any novices contemplating trying their hand at a ghost hunt.
 
The meaty chapter on ghosts is followed by a number of others looking at areas a group might tackle. A short one on Electronic Voice Phenomena/Instrumental Trans-Communication can only be considered a taster, needing amplification from other more specialised sources of information, and the authors do acknowledge that information on sound analysis is beyond the book’s scope. One on cryptozoology should get the budding animal tracker started.
 
More comprehensive, and of increasing importance given the explosion in ownership of digital cameras and the volumes of images produced by them, is the chapter on photographic anomalies. Again there is a brief history, followed by a categorisation of anomalies divided into: fakes; faults; misidentifications and misperceptions (with an explanation of how orbs are produced by the technology); and what are described as “genuine anomalies”, though that rather assumes that there will not at some point be a normal explanation for them.
 
That these issues can be complex is indicated by a discussion of the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall, described in the text as “Probably the most famous of all the ghost photographs that has (sic) ever been taken.” The authors mention that there was an independent witness to the development of the negative to guard against fraud, which on the surface sounds like strong support for a paranormal interpretation.  But Mr Jones, the said witness, was not present when the negative was being developed, he only saw it in the hypo bath (ie being fixed) after it had been developed by Captain Provand, and there was opportunity for fraud beforehand. The lesson here is not to take oft-repeated stories at face value.
 
There is a section on the use of EXIF data, which is invaluable for understanding the technical details of an exposure, and a quick look at some of the commoner effects which are incorrectly described as paranormal but which have normal explanations. The chapter ends with some images that Para-Projects have not been able to explain and suggest might have a paranormal origin.
 
The last type of investigation covered is of UFOs, and again there is practical advice on interviewing witnesses and eliciting as much information as possible, doing desk research and running a sky watch. They are particularly good on online sources to help identify things seen in the sky. A brief final section looks at the conclusion of an investigation, whether of ghosts, animals or UFOs, discussing the importance of writing up findings and issues around making them available. An appendix has examples of reporting forms that groups can use to log information in an organised way.
 
On the whole this is an excellent book by individuals who write from experience. There are some quibbles though. The historical overviews are so sketchy that they could have been dispensed with, and suggestions for further reading, on both the historical perspective and a fuller theoretical discussion, given instead. The examples of questions to ask witnesses could have been expanded. There are extremely detailed checklists used by groups in circulation, and the inclusion of a set here would have been helpful. The role of water in an imprinting process that might explain ghost sightings, by it having a memory, is implausible. The statement, “It has been found that if you place anything in water, eg a chemical compound, and then dilute the mixture to an extent that not even a single molecule of the chemical remains, the water continues to behave as though the chemical is still present”, is describing homeopathy, and is rather more contentious than this claim suggests. The authors mention Stephen Volk’s 1992 Ghostwatch and say that to see it “digging” on the internet is required. In fact the British Film Institute issued it on DVD in 2002.
 
With a small amount of effort the book could have been improved, but given the quantity of information provided, and the reasonable price, beginning investigators (and those more advanced as well) will find this practical guide an asset. Para-Projects' website (www.para-projects.com) has some examples of reports of their own cases, and these supplement the book, showing how the authors themselves go about it.
 
Amberley Books, November 2009. ISBN 9781848682344
Andrews, Ross
Chris Romer
Paranormal Cheltenham is a recent volume in Amberley Publishing’s collection of local ghost books. As the title suggests it deals with the town of Cheltenham in Gloucestershire, and also covers the adjoining village of Prestbury, one of the claimants for the title of ‘England’s most haunted village’, competing with Pluckley in Kent for the honour. 
 
The book is organised into five ghost walks, of varying length. Each is illustrated by crudely drawn maps, and one of the great weaknesses of the book is that these maps do not have any street names on them, and unless one is familiar with the town it may be easy to become lost while searching for a specific location. Church Lane for example is a narrow alley that runs down the side of St.Gregory’s Church and the Shaftesbury Hall apartments; this reviewer has lived in Cheltenham for twenty years and did not know its name, recognising the alley in question by the apparitional experience reported in the book rather than by the map or name! 
 
This is a great shame, because the walks are well thought-out, and the author Ross Andrews has constructed them to take in most of the ‘sights’ of the town as well as the locales of the haunting. While taking second place to the ghost stories the book is peppered with interesting snippets of history incorporated with a deft hand. However this is not a local history book; one would look in vain for the fascinating history of Pittville as a proposed second town in the Chelt valley, or such Cheltenham notables as Francis Close or his critic Lord Tennyson.
 
The first ghost walk should take forty minutes to an hour at a leisurely pace, and takes the reader around the town centre. It could be combined with a shopping trip for those whose partners prefer non-psychical research pursuits. (No times are given for any of the walks, or parking instructions – a grievous fault in a book of walks, far less so in a book primarily about ghosts.)  The second walk takes in some parts of Cheltenham of great charm and character, but well off the usual visitors’ route. It includes the Suffolks, Tivoli, and what locals refer to as the “Antiques Quarter” owing to the number of little shops dedicated to that trade. At perhaps an hour and a half this is a more strenuous walk.   Again the third walk takes one through Pittville, around the park, the lake and some truly beautiful Georgian buildings. Curiously there is no mention of the Gustav Holst museum, despite occasional claims of haunting there, and the obvious interest of the location to visitors to the town. 
 
This walk includes an interesting summary of the famous “Cheltenham Ghost”, summarising the story in to a little over three pages. The ghost is the Morton Case of SPR Proceedings Vol. 8, and the subject of W. Abdy Collins book The Cheltenham Ghost. Andrews fails to note that the property where the haunting occurred is today a Housing Association block of flats, whose residents would probably rather not be troubled by ghosthunters. However, it is worth noting that the grounds of St. Anne’s, where the supposed ghost of Imogen Swinhoe was seen, is now a sleepy little road of bungalows, and there is no harm in looking I suppose. The sad story of a dead dog attributed to the ghost and a couple of recent sightings bring the story up to date, but there are curious omissions, such as the supposed sightings of ‘Imogen’ in the 1950’s in a building on the other side of the road, or some other stories mentioned by Andrew Mackenzie in his account. Even more curious, given Mr Andrew’s personal involvement in psychical research is the absence of any reference to G. W. Lambert’s theories concerning the case, or Peter Underwood’s interesting critique.
 
The book includes two Prestbury village ghost walks; the former is largely the well-known story of the village that one can see on various websites, but the second, which takes the walker out of the village and some distance in to the countryside, has some interesting new accounts.
 
 The ghost stories are interesting, many drawn from the author’s circle of friends and acquaintances, others from the researches of local ghost group of which he is Chairman, PARASOC (Myers Society for Psychical Research). Some of the stories are recognisable from local author Bob Meredith’s little 1982 book Cheltenham: Town of Shadows, and a small number appear to derive from earlier Gloucestershire groups such as the Cheltenham Psychical Research Group. One of the more interesting aspects of this as an example of the “local ghosts” genre is how many of the stories and locations were investigated at the time of the alleged events. However the book does not concentrate on establishing the evidential value of the cases covered, and readers interested in further research should turn instead to the case reports at www.parasoc.org, as the author notes.
 
The book concludes with a chapter of ghost stories located outside of the walks, a number of PARASOC investigations and a final chapter on ‘How To Hunt Ghosts’ which makes the whole enterprise sounds like a hi-tech safari for gadget fans, as it is very much focussed on equipment and its usage in paranormal research. I was surprised at this; the author illustrates well in the rest of the book his understanding of the importance of interviewing witnesses, research, and attempting to understand the experience and its context and importance to the percipient.   The book provides a perfect example of the kind of useful research that can be conducted without a single ‘vigil’ or EMF meter in sight, yet somehow Andrews seems to overlook it in this chapter, despite it being an important strand of PARASOC’s research.
 
One new technique is described, called “Sensory Mapping”: asking people to designate which areas of a building they feel are “odd” or “spooky” before they are informed of the percipient’s experiences. Loosely modelled on Getrude Schmeidler’s ‘Quantitative Investigation of a Haunted House’, this method has given interesting results, the interpretation of which remains open, and is referenced many times in the book. More on this and similar research methodologies would have made this an even better book.
 
As it is this is an excellent local ghost book, written with dry with and at times painful humour, it entertains but does not scare. The author’s experience and knowledge shines through, and it is a superb example of what a local ghost book can be. Recommended, even to those who are not residents of the town.
Amberley Books, December 2009. ISBN 9781848686304
Renée Scheltema (Director)
Tom Ruffles

Renée Scheltema, an experienced Cape Town-based filmmaker, was stimulated to begin a personal quest by three separate events occurring in quick succession. Her daughter experienced a dream which appeared to be precognitive; she felt compelled to phone her father, and discovered that he had had a serious accident; and she witnessed a demonstration of spoon bending which intrigued her, even though she concluded that it probably involved sleight of hand. She thought about these incidents, trying to make sense of them, and wondered how she might distinguish between tricks and truth, what is psychic and what is fraudulent, and how strong the evidence for paranormal claims might be. Those musings resulted in this film, nine years in the making and edited from over 100 hours of footage.

She had studied at University of California, Davis, so Charles Tart, Professor Emeritus there and now at The Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, was a natural starting point. He stresses the necessity to look for the scientific basis of the transpersonal, and provides a structure for the film. He argues that “there are hundreds of experiments demonstrating the reality of psychic experiences. The ones that are acknowledged by any reasonable criteria of science I call ‘The Big Five’.” The five are: telepathy, clairvoyance or remote viewing, precognition, psychokinesis (PK), and psychic healing.
 

 
Scheltema goes through the Big Five, talking to people and gathering evidence both experimental and anecdotal. Her examples are well-chosen, if selective, and all of her interviewees perform well on camera, though the parapsychologists have to simplify to make their work understandable to a lay audience. Covering such a broad area in 105 minutes inevitably entails a broad brush and a fair turn of speed, and this is a film which repays a second viewing to pick up details lost through information overload the first time.
 
Tart pops up throughout the film, as do some of her other interviewees. Contributors who are well known in the parapsychology field include Hal Puthoff, Gary Schwartz, Dean Radin, Rupert Sheldrake (interviewed in a side trip to London), Stephan Schwartz, Roger Nelson and Larry Dossey. Scheltema also collects anecdotes from individuals such as astronaut Edgar Mitchell, psychic detective Nancy Myer, and healers Erik Pearl and Catherine Yunt. She shows footage of John of God in Brazil, demonstrating his eye-watering technique which involves pushing forceps a very long way up his patient’s nose.
 
Scheltema often uses her twisted spoon as a conversation opener to see what her interviewees say. Most express interest, but caution, not surprising given metal bending’s chequered history, and a surprising amount of the film is devoted to the topic. A bullish Gary Schwartz says that many people do it “as a trick, but let’s eliminate the tricksters.” How precisely do you do that though? The spoon bender who intrigued – but did not entirely convince – Scheltema gave her a demonstration in her kitchen, which she filmed, but she does not comment on the fact that before he bends the spoon he reaches into the left pocket of his jacket while standing at an angle with that side obscured, palms something which is in his hand while manipulating the spoon, and drops it back into his jacket pocket at the end. Schwartz talked about “communing with the atoms” to make the metal bend using only mental influence, but mechanical assistance seems a more reliable method.
 
On the other hand, while footage of one of Jack Houck’s spoon bending parties does not seem to show anything in particular except the application of brute force, Radin recounts a story in which he was sitting opposite someone attempting to bend a spoon, gently stroking one himself at the same time, and without realising it his spoon bent. We are shown the evidence pinned to his wall, yet he is sceptical about such large-scale effects and points out the problem of carrying out such tests under strictly controlled conditions. Houck on the other hand thinks that spoon bending is about 90% PK, with no explanation how he arrived at this figure.
 
A major pleasure of the film is seeing parapsychologists at close quarters. Radin shows his presentiment research in which people react to the emotional content of an image…before it is presented, and also his remote staring set-up. An fMRI experiment examining brain functions of receivers during telepathy tests, in which flashing lights are shown to senders, finds correlations with particular areas of the visual cortex which become active. A telephone experiment Sheldrake did with the Nolan Sisters (uncredited) is shown, with one waiting for a call and saying which sibling is ringing her before answering. (Sheldrake is still doing this work, supported by the Perrott-Warrick fund, and at the time of writing is seeking ten helpers to assist, to be paid £100 each on completion of the tests.) Puthoff describes remote viewing and discusses work done with Ingo Swann and Pat Price.  
 
Apart from spoons, PK research uses electronic RNGs in which the task is to shift their output from a random state to something less so. Roger Nelson discusses the Global Consciousness Project, funded through the Institue of Noetic Sciences. This employs a network of Random Event Generators around the world, and results seem to indicate that human consciousness interacts with them to reduce the variability of their output. An important event, such as the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, or 9/11, a big religious festival or a natural catastrophe, anything which causes huge numbers of people to attend to it, correlates with changes in the REG data. Even more intriguingly, the effect on 9/11 began about 4-5 hours before the aeroplanes struck, linking to Radin’s work on presentiment. Nelson concludes that we are all connected to each other and with the environment in a network of non-local information. He also speaks movingly about the impact of 9/11 on Princeton University.
 
The interconnectedness is not just between humans but also between humans and animals. We hear about Sheldrake’s work with Pam Smart’s photogenic dog Jaytee (again uncredited), split-screen time-coded footage showing the dog heading for the door to wait for her at the moment she thinks about returning home. At a hospice we see Oscar the cat who can intuit when terminally ill dementia patients are close to death, and will curl up with them a few hours beforehand until the end. Turning to healing, Dossey discusses the power of prayer, adding that music and mental imagery have been found equally effective, all in randomised, double-blind, controlled experiments. It is acknowledged that with humans, the placebo effect is a problem in assessing healing, but in experiments with non-human organisms belief is not an issue, and in such studies, positive results are still obtained. The survival rate for cut leaves is remarkable when given healing, compared to control leaves, and it would seem that Reiki works on stressed rats.
 
Psychic detective Nancy Myer is less convincing. She supplies an anecdote about finding a child but there is no corroboration of this from the police. Asked if she could say where Osama Bin Laden is, she refuses on the grounds that answering that question on tape could get her killed. Stephan Schwartz, who recounts a remarkable story of how psychic archaeology was used to locate the foundations of a building in a huge expanse of desert in Egypt, also organised a group of remote viewers who accurately identified the place where Saddam Hussein would be found in hiding and how he would look when captured. Yet, again, when asked if his stars could find Bin Laden, Schwartz does not jump up and say “yeah, let’s do it!” but seems fairly cool towards the suggestion, merely saying that it would be a good idea “if the CIA were soliciting input.” What seems to be an easy way to demonstrate the reality of remote viewing – and the CIA would surely be grateful for accurate information given their lack of success to date – is not taken up for some unspecified reason.
 
Despite a positive attitude by the participants towards their objects of study, there are contradictions which Scheltema doesn’t attempt to tease out. Gary Schwartz talks in terms of the body as an antenna for electromagnetic signals: “energy becomes plausible when you think of the human body in terms of electronics and electromagnetic fields.” He is talking at that point about healing, and this mechanism might be plausible where healer and patient are in close proximity. Yet he also refers to distant healing working in the same way, which seems unlikely; we had been told by Puthoff that remote viewing is not affected by distance, and Radin’s remote staring work uses a shielded room, which suggests that whatever the eventual explanation for the phenomena, it will surely not be in terms of conventional electronics. Radin notes that the effects obtained in laboratory experiments are weaker than those that appear to occur outside it, which raises the question why, and what it says about the more dramatic anecdotes we are given.
 
There is much talk from a number of the participants about quantum connection, non-locality and entanglement as a possible explanatory mechanism for psi. References to quantum fluctuations and energy pervading space are frequent, and there is a confused moment in which Scheltema’s voice-over talks about eating photons, accompanied by shots of a canteen. Puthoff describes remote viewing in terms of vacuum, or zero point energy, that might connect everything. A general view seems to be that consciousness is interconnected through quantum non-locality. However, Tart sounds a warning that it is too easy to use quantum theory as an explanatory catch-all. It is often invoked in a way that is more poetic than substantive, he indicates, but it is not poetry.
 
In general though, while there may be disagreements about how effects occur, there is more consensus about their reality. The film’s title is taken from a 1927 quote by English physicist Sir Arthur Eddington, born the year the SPR was founded, commenting on Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. Dossey has it stencilled on the underside of the staircase in his splendid house. The allusion is a curious one because interviewees exhibit a general lack of uncertainty about the phenomena they study.
 
A criticism of the film is that only proponents are interviewed, with no sceptical voices putting forward contrary views, and no time given to debating the experiments shown. A good example is the footage of John of God. A general practitioner who had witnessed his unorthodox techniques at first hand announces herself baffled by his methods, but Joe Nickell, who has investigated JoG in more depth, would have been able to supply a different view. Sheldrakes’s work with Jaytee was subjected to fierce criticism, and though Sheldrake fended this off, there is no sense in the film that the work with “animals who know when their owners are coming home” has been controversial. The speed at which the film moves rushes the viewer along, but one comes away wishing to hear a more rounded debate.
 
Something Unknown is a fascinating introduction to the work of parapsychologists, and those parts in which the metaphysical speculation is underpinned by empirical research, are the most persuasive. Interviews with non-scientists are less so, especially as the film has a New Age wash (the film was commissioned by Babeth M VanLoo and the Buddhist Broadcasting Foundation in the Netherlands; VanLoo is the BBF’s Programming Director); an unsubstantiated anecdote by Arielle Ford, Deepak Chopra’s sometime publicist does not feel out of place. The film is billed in its trailer as “a spiritual journey into the science behind psychic phenomena” - that aspect might be received less sympathetically by those who would be prepared to consider only work done on sound scientific principles.
 
The thrust of the film is that psychic abilities are real, are a mix of energy and information, consciousness can transcend the limitations of space/time, and everything is interconnected. Scheltema’s conclusions at the end of her journey are that “the paranormal actually seems normal” and that the findings of parapsychologists are challenging reductionist materialism. One certainly wonders where coincidence ends and interconectedness begins when one day Puthoff can tell Scheltema about an aeroplane that crashed in Zaire when Jimmy Carter was president, and was located by remote viewers, and Jimmy Carter boards Scheltema’s aeroplane the following day (with video footage of Carter glad-handing fellow passengers to prove it). The further conclusion, that science and spirituality are not mutually exclusive, despite Tart’s claim that research is building bridges between the two, is one that some viewers may not feel is warranted from the evidence shown.
 
One wants to agree with Nelson when he says that whatever one’s attitude to the evidence, “intentions matter. What we want actually makes the world a little different.” One might add though, “just as long as the intentions are good, Roger.”
 
Something Unknown has already garnered a great deal of critical praise: it won a Jury Award at the Arizona Film Festival and has been an official selection at the Berlin Documentary Festival, the Los Angeles Feel Good Film Festival, the Spirit Quest Film Festival in Pennsylvania, and the Santa Fe Film Festival. Paul Verhoeven lent his name and appears as associate producer which should help to get it exposure. It is a useful primer for people who don’t have much familiarity with the topics though Scheltema covers a huge amount of ground, and such a person will come away with only a sketchy idea of the experimental results that underpin the claims made. Hopefully they will be motivated to take a deeper look at the evidence for themselves.

Information about the film is available on its website, www.somethingunknown.com

Documentary directed by Renée Scheltema, 2009
Belanger, Michelle
Tom Ruffles

There is more than one way to conduct a paranormal investigation and, while it will not necessarily be to the taste of those who take enough surveillance gear on vigils to equip MI5, there is much of interest in Michelle Belanger’s book. In particular, it will be of use to those who feel that they are experiencing entities in their homes, and do not know where to turn for advice.
 
There is much talk of ‘energy’, but Belanger is careful to note that she is using the term as an approximation for what, as she sees it, provides the common ground for both us and ghosts; she refers to energy “as a kind of linguistic placeholder.” This is not a type of energy amenable to instrumentation, relying rather for detection on human psychic abilities, which she insists we all have to a greater or lesser degree (and which can be developed). She admits that it will be dismissed as imaginary by many if an alleged spirit does not deflect the needle on a whatsitometer, but argues that the human being is more sensitive – and much less understood – than our technology, capable of detecting phenomena to a greater degree than an electronic device.
 
The heart of the book is a series of techniques focusing on developing the ability to interact with this energy in order to deal with spirits, and Belanger provides a step by step guide, in clear language, to the basic principles. Chapters deal with establishing personal boundaries, cleansing a house, understanding the motivations, or lack of them, of spirits, and evicting those that are definitely a nuisance. She also discusses the use of symbols, which she considers useful tools, but contends that what they are is less important than their underlying meanings and the intent with which they are used.
 
As a device upon which to hang her explanations, Belanger uses a case study format. This shows how an ordinary chap, ‘Irving’, pestered by an infestation of spirits in his house, is transformed with help from Belanger and a colleague from a victim scared of his own shadow, not to mention those in the wardrobe, into someone with the self-assurance to take charge of his situation. The core of the book is about psychic self-defence, a determination not to be intimidated by things that go bump in the night, but rather to understand them, accommodate them where possible, and deal with them firmly when necessary. The stress is on empowerment rather than helplessness.
 
Ghost hunting groups have proliferated hugely in recent years, often on a commercial basis, but there is no reliable method of assessing their effectiveness. It takes a great deal of faith to trust yourself to strangers solely on their word, particularly when you are in a stressful situation, and although Belanger has designed this book primarily for group use, it will also be of value to individuals with little prior knowledge of the subject who believe that they are experiencing a paranormal situation. Whatever one thinks of the theoretical basis of her approach, Belanger has supplied tools that will give them the confidence to tackle it themselves, and confidence is largely what it is all about.
 
Where Belanger scores over many of the more nuts and bolts guidebooks is that she takes what is effectively a client-centred approach – and in a sense that includes the ghosts. For her, the person faced with the situation is more than simply part of the investigation, as is so often the case with groups, who can be insensitive to the needs of those that they are ostensibly trying to help. This puts control back into the hands of the victim, and the techniques can be used by those who have varying religious beliefs and who prefer to trust a ‘higher power’, or who have none at all.
 
The book is free from dogma, and Belanger stresses that there are many variations on the principles she describes.  The important thing, as she says, is that whatever is happening stops, and how it happens is of secondary importance. She has wise words for paranormal groups who may seek to impose a particular interpretation on a situation.   Given how little we still know about the subject, it is arrogant to assume that a particular view is the only one, and she urges ghost hunters to resist portraying themselves as bearers of THE truth, and to acknowledge that any explanation that they may offer has limitations.
 
Those spontaneous case researchers who prefer to stick with their instrumentation might still profit from a consideration of the techniques discussed, even if they only consider them to be psychological props. Groups often use mediums whose role is as much social worker as conveyor of information; they provide a narrative that the householders can accept, the unknown becomes known (at least to the clients’ satisfaction), and tension is removed from the situation. Belanger does not talk about the use of mediums because she feels that we all have that ability within ourselves (and she certainly does not agree with the concept of moving spirits ‘into the light’, considering it presumptuous to assume we are the best judges of the spirits’ needs) but the techniques she describes fulfil much the same role of taking the heat out of the situation and giving back a sense of control. And if the researcher gains information in the process, everyone wins.

 

Llewellyn, October 2009. ISBN: 073871870X ISBN-13: 9780738718705
Multiple authors: Addicoat, Guttridge, O'Dell, Hallowell, Ritson
Tom Ruffles

Amberley have established themselves as a serious force the production of books on paranormal subjects, particularly regional guides, and the five under review here are a random selection of their recent output. The authors are knowledgeable and all turn in enjoyable results. It is a useful exercise to see how they produce such different outcomes from a common brief: some are more successful than others, but together they demonstrate the extraordinary proliferation of local ghost hunting groups in recent years.
 
The volumes are bound in a standard paperback format, plentifully illustrated, and are attractively produced with matt black card covers. A fault common to them all, however, is the lack of an index, which makes it difficult to find information quickly. Also surprising is Amberley’s failure to list fellow titles in the series inside, which would seem to be basic marketing. Further details can be found on their website.
 
Haunted Pubs of the South West by Ian Addicoat is the most conventional of the batch, a standard gazetteer containing the usual rather vague stories typical of this kind of book. However, in addition to recounting old tales, Addicoat, president of the Paranormal Research Organisation and a Penzance resident, has included brief accounts from investigations he has been involved in, although the use of mediums tends to increase the amount of unverifiable information.
 
The result is useful for tourists visiting the area who would like to know a little about the paranormal history of the places they visit, but a major weakness is its organisation. Rather than grouped geographically, the pubs are listed in alphabetical order. That is fine if you are standing outside a pub and wants to check if it is included, but not helpful if you would like to know which establishments to visit in a particular place. So if someone wants to find all the entries for say Princetown, they either have to know the name of every pub, or go through page by page (there are three establishments listed). An index would have been easy to provide and would have increased the book’s usefulness.
 
Roger Guttridge’s Paranormal Dorset focuses on a smaller geographical area than Ian Addicoat does. Guttridge is not a ghost hunter, but rather a professional and experienced journalist; consequently his prose is rather more polished than that of some of the others considered here. There are no case reports by local groups, instead there is a reliance on previously published stories. Like the haunted pubs volume there is a reasonable bibliography, but none of the other three includes one, which unfortunately gives the impression that their authors feel they have supplied the final word on the subject.
 
Paranormal Dorset is the briefest of the five, and seems to have suffered from the requirement to produce the typescript within a tight timescale. In addition to standard ghost yarns, topics include UFOs, doppelgangers, fairies, visions, and a couple of fascinating poltergeist cases. One of these is the Durweston poltergeist from 1894-5, and the SPR is name-checked, although referred to merely as “the psychical research society.” The case was investigated by Ernest Westlake of the SPR, and described by Frank Podmore in his essay ‘Poltergeists’ in the SPR’s Proceedings in 1897. Guttridge does not seem to have consulted this account, and does not include Podmore’s conclusion that, “On the whole I think it would be difficult, on the evidence obtainable, to substantiate in this case a theory of supernormal agency.”
 
Another poltergeist case described is one that took place at Winton, dating from 1981. This too was investigated by the SPR, though it was called ‘The Bournemouth Poltergeist,’ and a report with that title by Cyril Permutt appeared in the Journal in February 1983 (again not cited by Guttridge). Both Permutt and Guttridge use the word ‘retarded’ when referring to one of the house‘s residents, which might have been acceptable in 1983 but certainly isn’t now.
 
Damien O’Dell runs a group called APIS, the Anglia Paranormal Investigation Society and has produced a substantial volume on Paranormal Hertfordshire. The longest of the set, it is chock full of information, including APIS investigation reports. These are entertaining, but one wonders if they might be too detailed for the general reader wanting to use the book as a guide to the county, rather than learn how groups mount investigations.
 
There are also, as with the pubs guide, structural problems, as information is scattered. This is most evident with St Albans, “the most haunted town in Hertfordshire” and fifth most in Britain apparently, which has references in varying places but again no index to tie them together. Some chapters are thematic and others focus on a particular place, which makes it difficult to know where to look for a given location. A surprising amount of space is devoted to the events at Versailles in 1901, described in the classic An Adventure, on the tenuous grounds that one of the witnesses, Eleanor Jourdain, was headmistress of a girls’ school at Watford. Overall, though, this is a thorough job with plenty of variety, and is well written.
 
Michael Hallowell and Darren Ritson are best known for their joint The South Shields Poltergeist, but they have written separate works for Amberley on South Tyneside and the North East of England respectively, though Ritson contributes a foreword to Paranormal South Tyneside. Many of Hallowell’s stories were generated from a newspaper column and suitable photographs were often not available to illustrate them. Instead the book is liberally sprinkled with bizarre “artistic representations” which serve no purpose apart from breaking up the text.
 
Some of the personal anecdotes from the newspaper are rather weak but Hallowell compensates for this by producing an eclectic mix in a chatty style, with a wide variety of fortean phenomena thrown in, resulting in the type of narrative where if something is unconvincing or has a tenuous link to South Tyneside, never mind, there will be something else along shortly. A number of the items definitely bear only a tangential relationship to the area. Jack the Ripper may have been an unnamed sailor who spent some time in South Shields but the evidence is flimsy, as Hallowell acknowledges, and he does not indicate in what way any connection might be paranormal. A canal boat wasn’t haunted in Tyneside; the family came from there but the mystery occurred while they were navigating the Warwickshire Ring.
 
Sections on Kirlian photography, premature burial, someone’s dream of the future, and mysterious beasts, to give a few examples, feel like padding. The book might have worked better as a collection of Hallowell’s stories rather than being tied to a geographical location. There are marks too of hurried writing. A description of a near-death experience featuring a gown on a hospital ledge, included with no supporting references, is surely actually about the tennis shoe reported by Kimberly Clark Sharp, which was supposedly seen in just such a position. Precognition is not the same as déjà vu.
 
Also covering Hallowell’s stamping ground, Darren Ritson tackles the Paranormal North East. He has included a good selection of photographs, though he seems to turn up in a large proportion of them. He also spends quite a few pages recounting autobiographical details, and includes a chapter about Harry Price on the grounds that Price was a key influence rather than for any link he might have had to the region.
 
There are no historical cases included, rather it is a collection of investigations conducted by Ritson’s North East Ghost Research Team. These are well written and interesting, though they are rather detailed for the general reader, and the heavy use of mediums is contentious. However, anyone contemplating conducting similar research will find it useful to see how another well-established and clearly busy group does it.
 
To sum up, Amberley are to be applauded for bringing out this attractively produced series, which will surely be popular, but more work needs to be done on the editorial side to maintain quality control, and efforts need to be made to check a natural tendency to regurgitate case paperwork. The general subtitle on the covers - “True Ghost Stories” (apart from on Paranormal Dorset, which for some reason has “Strange Tales But True) - is often belied both by the lack of conclusive evidence, and the wider range of material than just that relating to ghosts which is included. Presumably Amberley will try to cover the entire country, which will be a significant contribution towards documenting our spectred isle.

Lumsden, J.J.
Tom Ruffles

Here’s a novel novel. J. J. Lumsden has written a story about a parapsychologist investigating an apparent poltergeist, using the plotline as a vehicle to provide serious information, in the form of endnotes, on psi research. The result is entertaining and instructive in equal measure, and will appeal to SPR members as well as the general reader who would like to know more about parapsychology. 

Dr Luke Jackson, a professional parapsychologist engaged in pre-sentiment research (that’s endnote 51), is headed to a retirement community just outside Tucson, Arizona, for a flying visit to his grandparents en route to a conference in Hawaii – a choice of destination clearly designed to stimulate numbers applying for post-graduate courses in the subject. Unfortunately, just before he arrives his grandfather dies, causing him to extend his stay in Arizona, and while there he is asked to help out with a problem which is making a local couple consider leaving their home.
 
They are plagued by spooky manifestations such as strange Indian speech coming from downstairs at night when they are the only ones in the house, writing in the bathroom which appears and disappears, a candle that mysteriously burns down with no human agency, and so on. At a loss what to do, they ask Luke for his advice, so he sets about determining whether the phenomena have a paranormal explanation or not. The plot that follows, although coming to a tidier conclusion than much spontaneous case research, does give an idea of the sorts of problems that the investigator faces when probing what is really going on in a given situation and trying to make sense of what witnesses say.
 
The result is thoroughly enjoyable, but a problem with interweaving a detective storyline with information on parapsychology is that it affects the flow, made more noticeable by the fast pace of the procedural element. Every now and again the momentum slackens for a Socratic exchange in which a character will ask Luke a question, such as, “Tell me Luke, exactly what does a parapsychologist do?”, or “Spontaneous experiences are common?”, or “So what about healing?” to which he replies with a mini-lecture on the topic.
 
One learns to recognise the signs, and tends to think, “ah, the science bit, concentrate,” but the extensive supplementary material that elaborates these points is well worth the effort of working through and Lumsden has taken pains to make quite technical information accessible to the non-specialist. Areas covered as the narrative unfolds include testing various aspects of psi in the laboratory and possible explanations, theories of poltergeists, Electronic Voice Phenomena, Near Death Experiences, issues of fraud, and methods used by pseudo-psychics.
 
Lumsden also takes the opportunity to scrutinise methods used by sceptics, noting where they have been unfairly applied to parapsychology. The book concludes with a lengthy bibliography to enable the reader to follow up particular areas of interest. One puzzle that remains is why he chose to call a supporting character Chet Baker, with not a trumpet in sight.
 
Lumsden is apparently going to produce a sequel, and there are hooks in The Hidden Whisper that could be expanded. It would be nice to see a series, with educational underpinnings to page-turning fiction, as Dr Jackson examines things that go bump, or perhaps just beep, though whether Lumsden will generate as much interest from descriptions of Luke’s pre-sentiment research as he does from the Tucson Poltergeist is another matter.

 

Bennion Kearny, June 2008. ISBN-10: 0955911400 ISBN-13: 978-0955911408
Kelly, Edward F. Kelly, Emily Williams, Crabtree, Adam, Gauld, Alan, Grosso, Michael, Greyson, Bruce
Zofia Weaver

A book has recently been published which does something very important very well.  The book is Irreducible Mind: Towards a Psychology for the 21st Century, edited and largely written by Edward and Emily Kelly, with chapters by a number of prominent parapsychologists.  Its aim is to demonstrate empirically the need for a new philosophical and theoretical framework to accommodate the phenomena of mind and consciousness.  

A number of features make this scholarly, weighty (at over 800 pages literally as well as intellectually!) and clearly-written volume very special.  It provides a comprehensive review of experimental and theoretical  consciousness-related research in the light of its historical context and development, with a deep and wide-ranging philosophical sweep.  It is also passionately scientific, both in following empirical evidence wherever it might lead, and in demolishing orthodox fallacies which managed to embed themselves in the current worldview on the basis of dubious empirical and/or philosophical credentials. In fact, much of the book’s argument relies heavily on empirical evidence provided by current research, particularly in neuroscience.  However, the book also draws extensively on areas of evidence which tend to be outside the current framework (and that includes paranormal phenomena), often because of the difficulty in finding a place for them within the picture constructed on existing assumptions. 

The book is aimed  both at specialists and an educated general readership.  It will be particularly rewarding for serious readers who try to follow developments in consciousness research and theoretical debates, while not  being directly involved in that branch of learning. Readings in consciousness theories often leave one with that dissatisfied “yes, but what about [slot in your piece of evidence] …” feeling, yet unsure whether the problem lies with the theory, or with one’s own lack of expert knowledge.  The arguments presented here draw attention to the problem that research in this area is often rich in data but less so in understanding, and throw doubt on the assumption that more of the same data will somehow reveal the full picture. Another feature valuable for the general reader is that the flaws in much of the theorising in mainstream psychology become apparent without the need to refer to what some would regard as “fringe” evidence, i.e. that of experimental parapsychology or subjective human experience, not to mention survival research – although such evidence is given its due weight.

The first chapter gives us a compact history of twentieth-century psychology, from behaviourism to cognitive neuroscience of today, emphasising the inability of these theories to account for many important aspects of mind and consciousness.  It is followed by an introduction to Myers, the “forgotten genius”, and his contribution to the study of the mind-body problem.  The chapters which follow bring comprehensive reviews of areas either neglected within the current framework of psychological research (such as the influence of mental states on the body, secondary centres of consciousness, near-death experiences and related phenomena, genius-level creativity or mystical experiences), or regarded as “basically solved” (such as memory, where “trace” theories, although taken as axiomatic within the current framework, are shown to be fraught with empirical and conceptual difficulties).  The final chapter draws together the arguments running through the book, making a case for the theoretical framework, developed by Myers and William James, in the light of current scientific knowledge, including the more fundamental area of physics. 

This clearly presented overarching view of the fundamental philosophical issues which lie behind the conflicting, and often passionately held, attitudes towards the field of psychical research/parapsychology, is an important event for anyone interested in the questions of consciousness, mind-brain relationship, and where the possible answers might lead us.

Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. (December 7, 2006), ISBN 978-0742547926